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Surviving SEO: Life on the New Frontier

Posted by Dustin Verburg on Apr 23, 2013 4:25:13 AM

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Survival is often a matter of making an educated guess. It’s a question of getting the best possible results using only basic tools and knowledge and wisdom you’ve hoarded away in your brain. This survival theory is especially true when you’re exploring a new frontier, simply because the very environment is unpredictable. You can’t rely on anything but yourself. The SEO business (especially link building) is like an unexplored piece of geography in many ways. We trudge on bravely even though we don’t know what to expect, and we only have our wits, our tools and reflexes to rely upon. We also strive to keep the links we build verdant and pollution-free, even when it’s not easy.

For young SEOs, we can gain a good deal from the people that forged ahead before us—but even the most knowledgeable veteran link builder isn’t clairvoyant. In many ways it’s a dangerous world, but we’re willing to navigate it because it’s both challenging and rewarding. It also turns out that the best link builders’ educated guesses put them on solid footing—we might not be able to predict the future 100% of the time, but we’re better equipped to handle what the future brings than anyone else is.

Oregon Trail and SEO

I want to look at SEO and survival from two different standpoints, one of which is nerdier than the other. This section will focus on the classic computer game Oregon Trail (this is the less nerdy section, if you can believe that).

When we were kids we were absolutely riveted by those primitive green pixels on that black screen. It was a whole world to us. Our decisions meant the difference between life and death. We had to think, we had to prepare and we had to anticipate an unknown landscape. Would we have to ford a river? Would we break an axle? Would someone in our party catch dysentery? These were all things we had to think about, and we had to choose what to fill our wagons with. The kids who thought it through and really considered what that unknown western half of the continent was actually like were the kids who succeeded.

A good SEO, link builder or otherwise, is the kid who got the wagon across the river and didn’t waste all of his ammo on one buffalo because the shooting mini-game was the best part (it was). A quality SEO is a planner, but is also someone who can make a tough decision in the heat of the moment and come out on top. Even when fear of the unknown looms large, a link builder is ready to look any challenge in the eye.

Star Trek and SEO

This is where it gets really nerdy, so prepare yourself. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard and his crew were largely charged with exploring the galaxy. As you might expect, the galaxy is full of a lot of weird stuff—weirder stuff than Oregon, Utah and Idaho put together have to offer. The crew of the Enterprise doesn’t know what to expect, but they are prepared, they’re smart and they live by a code of ethics. That last part, the code of ethics, is the most important of the three when it comes to SEO.

When you’re dealing with alien societies, there are a lot of variables. It’s easy to screw something up. You might throw off an entire planet’s ecosystem, you might start a war or you might just find yourself in a compromising position in an alien courtroom. The Prime Directive, the code which Captain Picard and his crew live by, assures that he knows how to leave a healthy galaxy in his wake as he’s exploring. He is tasked with his crew’s survival, but he’s also tasked with not leaving a mess of war and pollution behind him on the trail. He does his job, he survives and the galaxy is a healthier place because he exists.

As SEOs, it’s also important for us to observe a sort of Prime Directive. It’s much, much easier to use underhanded tactics to survive than it is to survive with a code of ethics, but a good link builder won’t resort to shady strategies even when the chips are down. It’s important to leave the environment, the internet in this case, just as healthy as it was when you found it. Sometimes it’s hard to survive when you live by a Prime Directive, but the end result is worth it.

Integrity and SEO

We’ve already discussed planning, reflexes, survival and sticking to a code of ethics. Sometimes it’s easier to coast by in the SEO world if you resort to black hat tactics. In the short term, things pan out and you move on to your next job. You might even thrive. The problem with that is it’s not sustainable. You’re making the internet a worse place for other people, you’re depleting your resources and you’re not planning ahead. Pretty soon you’re out of a job because you built links the easy way and because you can’t adapt.

In Oregon Trail terms, wasting all of your ammo on a few buffalo might compare. Soon enough, you’ll be hungry and out of bullets. In the Star Trek universe, you might accidentally say the wrong thing to an alien diplomat because you didn’t even do a little bit of research—that might cause a war or, at the very least, chalk up one more planet that will never join the Federation. Survival is about more than your immediate needs—it’s about making sure there’s an environment around to sustain you and everyone around you. It’s the long game.

No SEO knows exactly how Google is going to change its search algorithms. We stay educated, we think on our feet and we equip ourselves with the best tools for the job—in other words, we do everything we can to stay ahead of the curve. The thing about SEO, and link building in particular, is that we are exploring new territory all the time. Our lives are always changing. The only surefire methods we can use to keep our heads above water are preparation, education and retaining our integrity in the face of adversity. It’s a challenge that demands creative thinking, an adaptable nature and the will to survive when times are tough—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.